Trauma & PTSD
Counselling with a trauma-informed psychologist can help with many types of stressful and traumatic experiences that can impact an individual’s short-term and long-term well-being, including PTSD (Posttraumatic Stress Disorder).
What is trauma and PTSD
An event can be experienced as stressful when we perceive a lack of control or agency over the outcome and/or the demands of the event are greater than our perceived capacity to cope. In comparison, a traumatic experience usually results in more significant negative impacts on an individual’s emotional, cognitive and physical well-being and may lead to PTSD.
- An event does not have to be life threatening to be traumatic.
- A traumatic experience can be any highly distressing event that shakes our sense of safety and/or emotional, financial and physical security. Bereavement, relationship and family breakdown, illness and invasive treatments, motor vehicle accident, and significant financial loss are just a few examples of experiences that can be traumatic.
- Experiences involving actual or threatened risk of death, serious injury or sexual violence can lead to the development of PTSD.
- An event can be experienced as highly traumatic for one person and less traumatic for another. Research indicates that exposure to past trauma can increase a person’s vulnerability to future traumatic responses when exposed to highly stressful events (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th Ed, 2013).
Signs of trauma:
Trauma can affect our thinking, emotions and behaviour and include symptoms such as:
- Intrusive thoughts of the event
- Loss/gaps of memory and concentration
- Mood swings, low mood
- Avoidance of activities or places that trigger memories of the event
- Social isolation and withdrawal
- Lack of interest in previously enjoyable activities
- Easily startled, hyper-vigilant
- Increased heart rate, sweating, muscle tension, migraines, back pain, IBS, insomnia
- Sexual dysfunction
- Changes in sleeping and eating patterns
- Overwhelming fear
- Avoidance of feelings, emotional numbing
- Pronounced feelings of anger, guilt and/or shame
- Panic attacks
An initial traumatic response can develop into three types of on-going states in adults. The following is only an outline; if you identify with any of these it is best to discuss this with a professional who can provide assistance with treatment.
An individual does not have to stay stuck in their trauma; through counselling the effects of even severe trauma can be significantly healed. Psychologists can help people understand the impacts of trauma on thoughts, feelings states, maladaptive behaviours, sleep impairment, memory, relationships, and general well-being.
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) occurs when symptoms of trauma, as listed above, last longer than 4 weeks. In some cases symptoms can continue for years. Symptoms have a significant impact on a person’s well-being. In some cases the effects of trauma can return unexpectedly months or years after the traumatic event(s) (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th ed, 2013).
When one experiences high levels of distress, which is out of proportion to the stressful event, resulting in significant disruption in the person’s social, occupational and general functioning.
Adjustment Disorder may apply when an individual does not meet all the criteria for PTSD.
Acute Stress Disorder
Acute Stress Disorder is diagnosed within a month of an individual experiencing a traumatic event in which both of the following occur:
- The person experienced, witnessed, or was confronted with an event(s) that involved actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of self or others.
- The person’s re-occurring responses can include: intense fear, anger, hyper-vigilance, helplessness, physical agitation, intrusive recall of aspects of the experience, avoidance, numbing and detachment from self and/or others, depressive symptoms.